Respect is admiring or looking up to someone because that person has done something extraordinary or possesses impressive abilities. It is also an act of giving attention or showing care.
You are at a restaurant. A woman sitting at the next table snapped her fingers and yelled at the waiter,
“Hey, you brought the wrong dish. Why are you not listening? Now go and get me the right dish. NOW.”
What would you think of this person?
I don’t know about you, but I would think that she’s being very rude and disrespectful. Why does she think she has the right to talk down to him like that?
Most people I know would not do such a thing to others, whether it’s their friends or someone they don’t know.
However, some feel completely entitled to talk to their children that way. A mother would snap at her son,
“Hey, I told you not to do this. Why are you not listening? Go and take a time-out. NOW.”
See the irony in these two examples? Why is there such a big difference in how we treat others compared to how we treat our children?
So, the meaning of respect goes deeper than just saying “Yes, Sir,” “Yes, Madam,” or being compliant.
The feeling of respect needs to come from within, and you cannot force someone to respect you.
It’s easy to define respect for kids. But explaining respect to a child involves more than just telling them its definition.
We cannot teach respect by being disrespectful to our children.
How To Teach Kids Respect
Here are 6 things you can do to get kids to listen to and respect parents.
1. Stay calm and don’t overreact when you think your child is being disrespectful
The other day, my daughter was eating cookies and wanted to enter my room. Crumbs came out of her mouth as she took every bite. I told her not to go into my room with the cookies.
I repeated that request at every step she took on the 14-step staircase. I said it one more time when she was at my door. She ignored it and entered my room with cookies in her hands and crumbs on my floor.
I was angry. I exploded and yelled, “Didn’t you hear that I asked you not to come in with cookies?”
She looked at me, turned around, and left my room.
So what is the lesson?
That yelling and only yelling works with kids who don’t listen, right?
She didn’t listen to me because she couldn’t listen to me. I was not in front of her, making eye contact and ensuring she was paying attention to what I said.
Instead, I just sat at my desk and shouted my command while she was fully immersed in tasting the yummy cookies.
Any leftover focus was spent on making sure she didn’t fall down the stairs.
She simply couldn’t pay any attention to me until she entered the room and saw me.
However, from my perspective, I thought she heard everything I said but ignored me. I thought she was purposely disrespecting me and my request.
So I was angry. My emotions took over. Instead of looking into why she acted that way, I yelled at her.
I was being disrespectful to her.
I was shouting to her from another room, not caring whether I was interrupting what she was doing or not.
And when she didn’t meet my expectations, I acted rudely toward her.
I showed her that I only cared about my own needs. I showed her that when you were frustrated, you could be rude and disrespectful.
That was the wrong message.
I showed her an example of disrespect.
I was not a good role model in having empathy and self-control. I was certainly not a good example of respect.
Granted, there are often situations where disrespectful kids do outrageous or disrespectful things, but it could be because they don’t know any better at that age or they miss the cue.
That’s where we, the parents, come in to teach them.
Teaching respect to children cannot be done using a disrespectful manner.
To teach respect, first, we must stay calm and in control. Identify if this is a real “disrespect” situation, a misunderstanding, a toddler tantrum, or simply because the child hasn’t learned the proper response in such a situation.
2. Identify the cause for disrespect and focus on teaching problem-solving alternatives
When genuinely disrespected, we must pay attention to the circumstance instead of going off on the child, “You are being disrespectful!”
Ask your child why they act that way.
Last weekend, my almost 4.5-year-old finally achieved a major “milestone.” She called me a bad mom.
She had never called me that before; we had never called her a bad girl.
So she didn’t learn to say that until she heard her friends say it recently.
For most parents, that is very disrespectful for a child to say.
Justifiably, many of them become upset or angry. They would reply, “How dare you! You are not allowed to talk to me that way. I’m your mother/father!”
These parents are upset. They are called names, and they are hurt.
You may see these words as signs your child doesn’t respect you.
But what is the child’s intention when they say that?
Disrespectful kids usually say that because they are angry. Someone and it’s usually you, hurt them. So, out of instinct, they want to hurt you back.
It is usually not malicious because kids (and grownups) cannot think straight when angry. They just reflexively want to fight back to protect themselves; in this case, they use hurtful words.
I asked my daughter, “Why did you say that? Was it because you were angry?” She nodded.
“Were you angry because I didn’t let you have more cookies?” She nodded again. I nodded sympathetically, too.
With my acknowledgment, I could see her seething anger start to dissipate.
“Well, I understand you are upset. But that doesn’t mean I am a bad mom. If other kids are mad at you for something you have done, does it make you a bad girl?” She shook her head determinedly.
“OK, then you are not a bad girl because other people are upset. So I am not a bad mom because you are angry, right?” She nodded slowly, like she was trying to absorb my words.
At that point, I went on to address her needs.
She was angry because her needs were not met.
I asked her to think of other ways to get what she needed instead of calling me names.
I explained to her that hurting others that way couldn’t help reduce her anger or solve her problem.
By naming and narrating my child’s emotions, I helped her understand where her anger came from, taught her vocabulary to describe her emotions, and gave her tools to solve problems. I also showed her that even in conflict situations, you could stay calm, keep a clear head and respond respectfully.
Disagreement can take place without being disrespectful.
Isn’t this much better than screaming, “How dare you!” which only addresses the parent’s own needs to feel respected?
Check out How to Deal with an Angry, Disrespectful Child for more ideas on handling the disrespect issue.
Have trouble motivating your child? Check out: How To Motivate Kids
3. Model how to be respectful by respecting your kids first
What better way to teach a behavior than modeling the behavior you want to teach?
Show them how to respect by respecting them.
I don’t mean calling them sir or madam or bowing to them. Just treat your child as a person like you treat other grownups.
For example, respect their preferences.
I’ve heard a father yell at his son for eating the inside of a pie first before the crust because that was the wrong way to eat a pie. True story.
It is ridiculous how some parents want complete control over their child’s behavior and preferences.
Most of us are not this extreme, but we still do some variations of preference policing. But if you want your child to respect you, start with respecting their choices.
Everyone has their preferences.
As much as I want my little one to be a mini-me and like the same things I do, she is not. My child has her own liking.
If I don’t like what she wants, I will explain my rationale.
But ultimately, she has to learn to make decisions for herself.
As long as her choice is not dangerous to safety or health, is not (too) financially consuming, and does not hurt others, I honor it.
That is why I let her make her own choices in things such as her own outfits.
She often ends up going to her preschool wearing mismatched socks, pajamas under dresses, a shirt under/over a dress, etc.
Every person has the right to think independently and like different things. That should include children.
When children’s differences are accepted, they feel heard and respected.
They see first-hand how to treat others who have different opinions. They learn that they should respect people despite their differences.
When the teenage years come, this understanding and tolerance for differences are how to get your teenager to respect you.
That’s when everything Mom and Dad say will sound stupid to them.
Also See: How To Deal With Teenage Attitude
4. Use kind and firm discipline to teach, not punish
Discipline means to teach or to train. Discipline does not mean punishment.
It doesn’t have to be punitive.
In fact, studies have shown that positive discipline is a lot more effective and longer-lasting than punitive strategies.
If we discipline using a menacing or stern tone when our kids have done something wrong, we are showing them how to be cruel and harsh to those who make mistakes.
Who doesn’t make mistakes?
Imagine if you make a silly mistake at work and the boss talks down to you in a demeaning way. That must feel lousy, right?
Would any of us, therefore, have more respect for this boss?
The same with children; being harsh or using punitive punishment will not earn us respect.
But positive discipline is different from being “soft” or permissive.
One can be firm and kind at the same time when disciplining. Setting firm boundaries and sticking to them are the keys to successful discipline.
5. Give respect to earn respect
Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world.
Parents spend so much effort, time, and money caring for their little ones.
Their entire lives changed and started to revolve around their children the moment they were born.
It is only natural that we expect kids to respect their parents.
But little children don’t understand all this. And to be fair, they didn’t ask us to do all this! We decided to take on these responsibilities.
We decided to have kids. Kids didn’t decide to have parents.
If we don’t respect them but at the same time expect them to respect us, that is just hypocritical. Think about a chain smoker telling his child not to smoke. How effective is that?!
Respect cannot be demanded. It can only be earned. So, earn it!
How to earn respect?…
Give your child real reasons to respect you by being a good role model.
Model good behavior, such as being respectful to everyone, including our children.
6. Apologize when you mess up
Not that I’m saying I’m never harsh to my child.
As mentioned, I do sometimes shout when I’m at my wit’s end.
So I get it. I understand the occasional outbursts in the heat of the moment, especially when we’re dead tired doing all sorts of grownup stuff, like working, housekeeping, and what else, parenting.
Despite that, I will never use it as the default way to treat my child, nor will I justify doing so as OK or necessary.
When I did lose it, I would give myself a time-out to calm down.
Afterward, I explained to her why I had been so upset before.
I taught her that having emotions was normal, but shouting was not OK. I felt guilty, and I said sorry to her.
A mature, respectful grownup accepts responsibility and apologizes when he or she makes mistakes.
Apologizing to your child does not undermine your authority as a parent.
On the contrary, you are reinforcing your authority and credibility. You are demonstrating integrity and building trust with your child through your parenting style.
Treating children disrespectfully will make them lose respect for us (think about the mean boss example above).
If you’re lucky and your kids are not the stubborn type, you may get temporary compliance out of them, which may seem like respect.
But it is not.
Years later, when they’re all grown up, you may wonder why your grown children don’t have respect for you anymore.
They probably never did.
They were only being compliant when they were kids. And you have modeled the lack of respect well since their childhood.
Admittedly, I sometimes wondered if I should go the “easy” route to save myself some time and frustration after telling my daughter not to make a mess a gazillion times.
But every time I was tempted to take such a shortcut, I reminded myself how I hated it when I was treated like that as a child and how it would only earn me disrespect.
“Who says parenting is easy?”
With this thought, I took a deep breath, recomposed myself, and explained the gazillion-first time why it was not OK for her to do that.
It is certainly not easy to do everything I listed.
What helps is understanding why we parent the way we do. Only when we self-reflect on ourselves can we model introspection to our children.
Our childhood affects how we parent, no matter how much we want to deny it.
Even those who have had a happy childhood may still have unresolved issues that prevent them from being the best parents they can be.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The steps to teaching a teenager respect are the same as those used to teach kids, as outlined above. The good thing about teenagers is that they can understand and reason better than little kids. So if you see any disrespectful behavior, calmly and politely point it out, and ask them to try again. Sometimes, they don’t notice because that’s how they talk to their friends. The difficult part about teaching teenagers is that the adolescent stage can make them more sensitive to being disrespected. Ironic, isn’t it? But if you can stay calm and respectful when interacting with your teenager, they will eventually adopt your demeanor.
People, including kids, naturally respect those who deserve respect. But even if someone doesn’t deserve it, we should still be respectful. That’s because our behavior reflects who we are. So being a good role model of respecting everyone, including the child, is a good way to teach kids how to be respectful to others, including their parents.
I’m very sorry if you don’t get respect from your parents. Everyone deserves respect regardless of age. Unfortunately, this is a novel concept for some adults. But I believe that, even if someone treats me disrespectfully, I should still be respectful, not necessarily because I respect that person, but because my behavior reflects what kind of person I am. I want to rise above those who disrespect me. I can’t say that I always succeed, but I strive to. You can, too.